Ikemesit Effiong: The National Conference is a failure – Here is why

by Ikemesit Effiong

In case you may not have noticed, the most colourful circus in our nation’s history, the 2014 National Conference, has finally come to an end.

Trust me, I mean every letter of the word circus.

 

Now ask yourself this. Did we need to spend N12 million per delegate (that translates to N5.92 billion on the delegation alone) to have all these fine ideas ‘resolved’ on?

 

It has been a whirlwind, four month long, merry go-round filled with shouts, sound bites and lots of sleep. Among the winners of the ‘most clueless things to say’ category would be Adamawa’s top traditional ruler. He covered every angle of the continuum from proclaiming that the North essentially could live without that life giving shit – oil – to equating the Niger Delta’s obsession with its mineral resources to the North’s vast expanse of land and the crowning of them all, reminding us that Cameroon is still an ever welcoming neighbour.

Let’s get this straight, the just concluded Conference was an utter waste of – to borrow Pat Utomi’s words – “good time and good money”. The facts are clear on this.

The exercise seemed to lack any form of recognisable legitimacy. For one, its legal footing is unclear. Jibrin Otukepa SAN forcefully argued on AIT’s Focus on Nigeria programme on Friday that no rule exists, in the Constitution or elsewhere, empowering the President to issue a proclamation convening the conference. How will the Conference’s resolutions be implemented? Even more importantly, who will implement those resolutions? Even the National Assembly is confused as to this question. Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egab said in June that “the National Conference is a body set up by Mr. President, so its report will go to Mr. President and Mr. President will do with the report as he pleases.” Fast forward to August, and the amended position is, “It is up to the president. If he sends it to the National Assembly, we will deal with it with the dispatch and importance that it deserves.”

Then, you have the legitimacy question. A conference which claimed to be convened to enable Nigerians talk about the things that ache us and carve a new architectural superstructure for our future should of necessity involve the people that it ostensibly ought to benefit – everyday Nigerians. Alas, the process of choosing delegates was as undemocratic as the past efforts by Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 and 1978 and Sani Abacha in 1995. The inference from the four efforts at convoking a national dialogue seems to be this: an enshrined commitment to a paternalistic viewpoint of our leaders where they feel they know what is best for us, who can provide those solutions, how best to implement those solutions and crucially, we all suck it up in quiet reverence.

The fact that Nigeria has not fundamentally changed since our first forays into engaging in farcical fanfares marauding under the guise of a national conversation is evidence enough that this format of fostering real societal progress is dated, discredited and ill-suited to our collective purpose as a nation. That is, if we are a nation.

What the delegates to the National Conference fail to grasp is that our country’s many woes are fundamentally structural and paying lip service to real issues which need serious, well considered and reflective examination is not possible over a four month timeframe, especially when much of that time is clouded by folks rehashing old demands and evolving new means of sowing ethnic discord.

For example, the class of 2014 decided that we need eighteen new states, a ‘modified presidential system’ with the Vice-President coming from the legislature, part time lawmakers, political rotation enshrined in our Constitution, no local governments and (this one cracked me up), The creation of the office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government. Did I forget to mention that they also want the old national anthem as well as churches and mosques to pay taxes?

Now ask yourself this. Did we need to spend N12 million per delegate (that translates to N5.92 billion on the delegation alone) to have all these fine ideas ‘resolved’ on?

As baffling as these resolutions may seem, it becomes even more perplexing when you consider that what the class of 2014 came up with is not fundamentally different from what the delegates arrived at when Obasanjo was the provost of their party in 2005. Or even when Sani Abacha was the dean of the school of National ‘Conferencers’ in 1995 (see this helpful comparison of the various conferences by Premium Times).

Writing in The New York Times, Michael Singh brilliantly argues that the real problem of the Middle East, that festering pool of political frustration and societal contradictions which occasionally bubbles into actual conflict, was actually economic. In this week’s Economist leader, the case is made about China’s rise to the global stage and how its internal contradictions makes its efforts at consolidating the economic gains of the last two decades and fashioning a more equal society a perilous, potentially fractious exercise.

Nigeria is in a far worse situation and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Black humanity’s most populous nation is home to 9% of the world’s poor (only bettered by India and China), the overwhelming majority of its out of school children, doesn’t produce as much electricity as New York City consumes and harbours a youth unemployment rate almost double the number that caused Greece and Spain to erupt in protests through much of 2013.

When we lack leaders and thinkers who fail to see our national identity as being assailed on every side by the forces of poverty, under productivity, graft and the worst expression of a systemic economic malaise – yet they advocate for more unsustainable states and bicker over which region should produce the next President – then we possess the right ingredients for the continuation of the underachievement that has been Nigeria’s experience since Independence.

If anything, the just concluded National Conference illustrates the fact that Nigeria is simply not ready to confront the fact that it is bloated, creaking on every indicator of human existence and is wholly incapacitated to compete in a fast dynamic global economy and provide for its people. Heck, we have no deep-water seaport in the country. In 2014!

Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi said in his remarks at the closing ceremony of the Conference in Abuja during which its report was presented to President Goodluck Jonathan, that the task of the Class of 2014 was “the most arduous” in the history of conferences in the post-independence history of Nigeria.

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Ikemesit Effiong is a legal practitioner, political blogger, research consultant and avid troller of online curiosities. He reads too much for his own good, talks too little for others’ comfort and believes that the best place to be is underwater – with a swim trunk of course. He tweets from @JudgeIyke.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

I agree. It was the most arduous to stomach.

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cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail